Scientists Have a Plan to Eradicate Murder Hornets in the US, but It’s Tricky

Washington State Department of Agriculture The Asian giant hornet threatens to become a new invasive species in the U.S. if efforts to eradicate it don't work.

Over the weekend, Americans started hearing that “murder hornets” have made their way to the U.S. The biggest and most venomous hornets in the world are now living in the Pacific Northwest. But scientists in that region are working to trap and track the hornets in an effort to find and destroy nests.

In the entomology world, these large insects are known as Vespa mandarinia, or more simply Asian giant hornets. They are native to moderate and sub-tropical parts of Asia and seem to like forested areas, according to the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

In late 2019, these large stinging insects were discovered in British Columbia and in Washington State. According to the WSDA, getting rid of murder hornets before they can establish themselves in the U.S. is a priority due to “the human health danger, ecological risk, and impacts on apiary management,” protecting the already compromised honey bees. That’s because Asian giant hornets are known for attacking honey bee hives and decapitating the bees before eating their larvae and pupae.

Their stings can cause kidney damage, tissue necrosis and anaphylactic shock in humans, which can lead to death. National Geographic reported that “in Japan an average of 30 to 50 people each year die from the hornets’ stings. In 2013, when populations of the hornets were unusually high, they killed 42 people in a single Chinese province.”

According to the WSDA, the hornets aren’t especially aggressive except when it comes to protecting their nests or a beehive that they’re attacking. Still, they need to go, and entomologists have a plan.

If Murder Hornets Aren’t Eradicated Within a Couple of Years in the US, They Will Be Here to Stay

Chris Looney, an entomologist at the Washington State Department of Agriculture, told National Geographic he is “very worried,” because this type of hornet is “pretty formidable.” If scientists can’t wipe out all of the nests within a couple of years, the Asian giant hornet will be another invasive species that is here to stay, Looney said.

The WSDA reported that “a nest was located and destroyed in Nanaimo, BC, in September 2019. An additional specimen was photographed in White Rock, BC, later that year. Two specimens were collected near Blaine, WA, in October and December of 2019. Taken together, these sightings raise the possibility that the hornet may be becoming established in the Pacific Northwest.”

The WSDA says that one challenge in eradicating Asian giant hornets is a lack of traps for this type of insect, which makes it hard to know where they are. Both Washington State and British Columbia have started campaigns to enlist the public to report sightings of the invasive species.

According to the WSDA none of the roughly 150 reports from the public so far have been credible sightings. The website now has photos and information about various types of hornets and wasps to help people to distinguish what type of insect they see, but they say when in doubt, report the sighting.

Tracking the Queens, Bottle Traps & Heat-Detecting Technology are Proposed Strategies to Eradicate Murder Hornets From the US

WSDAAn example of a bottle trap that can be used to trap murder hornets.

Officials from the Washington State Department of Agriculture and British Columbia will set bottle traps throughout the region, and they’re asking volunteers to also set out and monitor bottle traps.

“Looney and other researchers are setting out lures to try to capture emerging queens,” National Geographic reported. “In the summer, the researchers will set out hundreds of traps to continue looking for queens and workers, which would emerge in the summer if any new colonies are established. They could then try to attach radio-transmitting collars so they could track the wasps back to their nests and destroy them.”

Murder hornets keep their nests underground where they generate heat of around 86 degrees, so heat-sensitive technologies could help to locate the nests. The WSDA says it will be necessary to track the hornets to their nests so the nests and queens can be destroyed. Scientists will wear specially made suits when they approach the nests to avoid the deadly stings from the hornets.

They also say that “beekeepers are critical partners in this effort. The Mt. Baker Beekeepers Association is maintaining spring ‘sap traps’ in WA and BC, for emerging queens seeking carbohydrate-rich sap. Agencies in both countries will deploy bottle traps targeting hornet queens and workers throughout the season. WSDA and USDA researchers will also test chemical lures in 2020.”

Looney told National Geographic about finding and killing the murder hornets, “It’s going to be tough, but yeah, we have a shot at it.”

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